With the release of the first instalment of each adventure path, Paizo has also released a short player’s guide. These guides provide players with some initial background, selections of campaign traits, and a variety of other things appropriate to the particular adventure path. The idea is to help players design characters that are suited to the adventure to come. With the early adventure paths, including Rise of the Runelords, the guides were printed books. Starting with Council of Thieves, the guides became pdf-only releases. The attractive part, however, was that they were free downloads. The new Rise of theRunelords Anniversary Edition Player’s Guide is in the style of these later guides, a free pdf download.
The original guide for Rise of the Runelords was somewhat different than all the guides that followed it. It was less a guide to Rise of the Runelords (indeed, it was called simply Pathfinder Player’s Guide on the cover, only mentioning Rise of the Runelords on the inside title page) than it was an introduction to Varisia and Golarion. Golarion was a brand new campaign setting at the time, and so this book needed to cover things like the gods and the domains offered, and race and class information. Obviously for the new Player’s Guide, details such as these are no longer necessary, so the book is free to deal a little more with the campaign itself. It includes long-sought-after campaign traits (traits had not yet been created when Rise of the Runelords first came out) and tips on the most useful skills to select. These are followed by a more extensive gazetteer of Varisia than the original Player’s Guide had.
Of the various guides published for the different adventure paths, some have been better at preparing players for the campaign than others. Unfortunately, I’d have to say that the new Rise of the Runelords Player’s Guide falls into the camp of those that don’t succeed very well. Don’t get me wrong; there’s still useful stuff in here. However, a large amount of the Varisia gazetteer is not particularly useful to the players from the start. Most of this information is also available in Pathfinder Player Companion: Varisia, Birthplace of Legends. True, the Player’s Guide is free while Varisia is not, so some information on Varisia is good for those who don’t have the other source. However, much of the information isn’t all that useful for creating a Runelords character, especially as the PCs may never end up visiting many of the locations mentioned. This information could easily be seeded into the game, if needed, by the GM over the course of the campaign, and thus could be excised from this book in favour of information on Sandpoint, which is, quite shockingly, completely missing from the book. Sandpoint is the base for the whole campaign. Much of the first adventure takes place there and the other adventures frequently return to it. There is a map of Sandpoint, but nothing else. The town doesn’t even have an entry in the Varisia gazetteer. Even the old Player’s Guide, with limited space, managed to fit in two pages of information on Sandpoint. I’m not sure why it’s been ignored here. Information on Sandpoint is vital to new characters, especially ones that grew up in Sandpoint.
On top of that, the book doesn’t really do much to give players an idea of what is to come. Of course, there’s always a debate about how much advance warning to give for any campaign. I know there are some GMs out there who feel that giving any sort of clue of what the campaign may be about is tantamount to metagaming, but GMs who feel that way can always choose not to use the Player’s Guide. For many people, myself included (and I feel this way as a GM, too, as I do far more GMing than I do playing), a little idea of the theme and style is useful for creating characters that will fit that theme and style. When the characters are a good fit for the campaign, the overall play experience is enhanced considerably. For the most part, people just have more fun. Beyond some appropriate campaign traits, the Rise of the Runelords Player’s Guide just doesn’t contain any clue as to theme and style of the campaign. And while the campaign traits are thematically appropriate, some of them will take awhile before their usefulness becomes apparent. For example, the Giant Slayer trait provides bonuses against giants, something very appropriate to the adventure path as a whole. There are lots of giants in the latter half. Unfortunately, it’s not until the third instalment that the giants actually start to show up (in the form of ogres and ogrekin). A player who selects Giant Slayer will have to make it through two whole adventures before seeing any real use out of the trait. By that time, the player may be starting to think that the trait is useless, especially as there’s nothing else in the Player’s Guide to indicate that giants are a major force in Rise of the Runelords. Even the cover picture fails to give any indication of the theme as it is just a collection of portraits of three fairly minor NPCs.
Overall, the various player’s guides for the different adventure paths make up one area where Paizo still seems to be figuring out what works, given the vastly varying levels of usefulness from one to the next. Unfortunately, the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition Player’s Guide is one of the less successful. Apart from some campaign traits to choose from during character creation, players will get very little use out of this book. It’s a shame since the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition itself is such a phenomenal achievement (see my glowing review). A great Player’s Guide to go with it would have been icing on the cake. At least the guide is free.